Knight Institute: CNN, Acosta Lawsuit Against White House Is a Necessary Defense of the First Amendment

NEW YORK (Nov. 13, 2018) – CNN and its chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, filed a lawsuit today after the White House took an extreme and unusual step of revoking Acosta’s White House access, effectively denying Acosta access to White House briefings. The Secret Service confiscated Acosta’s press pass after he repeatedly questioned the president’s characterization of a Central American migrant caravan as “an invasion.” 

“The lawsuit is entirely justified. The First Amendment bars the White House from revoking a reporter’s access to open press briefings simply because it doesn’t like his questions,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The court should order the White House to restore Acosta’s access. It would be terrible for the public, and for our democracy, if reporters questioning the president had to operate under an ever-present threat of this kind of retaliation.”

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The White House’s revocation of Acosta’s access raises issues similar to those raised in Knight Institute v. Trump, the Knight Institute’s ongoing challenge to President Trump’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump. In 2017, the Institute filed that lawsuit on behalf of seven individuals whom the president blocked for their criticism of him or his policies. A federal judge agreed with the Institute that the president’s Twitter account constitutes a “public forum” under the First Amendment and that the president acted unconstitutionally when he blocked speakers from his account on the basis of viewpoint. Following the ruling, the White House unblocked the Knight Institute’s clients as well as dozens of other once-blocked followers of the president’s account. It has also appealed the ruling, however; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is likely to hear argument in the appeal later this year or early next year.

“President Trump is trying to purge critics from press briefings in the same way he once tried to purge them from his Twitter account,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “But the government can’t exclude someone from a public forum simply because he or she has been critical of government policy. As First Amendment principles go, this one is as well established as they get.”

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.